Thursday, 9 February 2012
Australia -Land Of Painful Drowned Sorrows
I can understand his sentiments. Australia is one of the greatest countries in the world. I've met only a handful who have thought otherwise.
So imagine the Accidental Bus Driver, rolling up at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne on a warm Spring evening in October 1979. He was a mere 17. Fresh from school and the constraints of a grey Britain. The Yorkshire Ripper had just killed his 12th victim, Lord Mountbatten had been assassinated by the IRA, Manchester City had splashed out a record transfer fee of £1.45 million for Steve daley from Wolverhampton Wanderers only to see Wolves in turn break the record by paying just under £1.5 million for Andy Gray from Aston Villa, British Leyland were to stop manufacturing the MG and the largest shopping centre in Britain at Milton Keynes was opened by Margaret Thatcher.
The TV was down to two channels, BBC1 and BBC2, as ITV was closed down for over two months by a technicians strike and really the most exciting event of the year seemed to be the BBC screening the last ever episode of To The Manor Born, with Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles attracted an audience of 23 million (though it did return for a Christmas Special in 2007).
Arriving in Australia, where the sun always seemed to shine and mostly the people smiled and were happy, often doing outdoor pursuits, was pure magic for a seventeen-year-old. My first supper was yabbies, a huge hunk of beef with roast pumpkin and canteloupe melon - things I never saw at home. Breakfast was steak with a fried egg on top, followed by a trip to the Milk Bar for a Vanilla Malt milkshake. It must have been similar to the moment when Ali Baba saw the contents of the forty thieves' cave.
It was the get-on-with-things attitude which I liked the best. Drive 100 miles to go out to dinner? No worries. Go to a 48 hour party? No worries, so long as you bought along some wine boxes. Once you had finished drinking the contents, the box could be dismantled, the silver pouch blown up and, hey presto, you had your personal pillow. Drive 200 miles to have a punt on a trotter, laid out for a race. No worries. It won. And it was on a border town called Echuca with a bridge separating Victoria from New South Wales. Because the licensing laws were different in each state, the pub on one bank of the Murray River closed one hour earlier than the other. There would be a procession of people racing over the bridge for the extra hour's drinking.
Of course, it was only fifteen years ago that the famous 'Six O'Clock Swill' had been brought to an end. It was a time when men left work at 5pm and drunk as many glasses they could before the pub closed at 6pm. One friend, who had been a barman in Perth, said the pub was silent. Before five o'clock he would fill the counter with schooners of beer. The doors would open and there was a rush to the bar. The regulars made their way to their usual table which was also covered in glasses and begin downing them in silence. At 6 they would all stagger out.
I once went to a cattle sale with the boss. It was always a long day. If the sale went well, we would stop at five or six places on the way back to celebrate. If it was a bad sale we would do the same - but would drown our sorrows rather than celebrating. This particular day was the worst ever. The 29 Charolais heifers hardly raised a bid of AU$300. A disaster. The Boss was ultra-depressed. The drive home was slower than usual and we reached his kitchen in the early hours to round the night off. At 3am, he got up on the chair, stood to attention, sung the National Anthem and fell head first into the wastepaper bin, tearing all his ligaments and putting him on crutches for months.
'No worries,' he said. 'The next sale will be better. And sure it was.